To Be More Inclusive Stop Using Interfaith

created imaging showing prohibited symbol over word Interfaith

I hate the word ‘interfaith’. I’m not religious and don’t have a ‘faith’ so anything labeled ‘interfaith’ doesn’t include me no matter what word spinning you try to do. You just can’t add nonbelief to ‘interfaith’ and be inclusive. Using the word reduces nonbelievers to the level of unwanted step-children. We need a new word to express cooperation between people who have faith and those who don’t. I nominate ‘interpath’.

There has been a call in the nonbeliever community to participate in interfaith groups. One such group we have here in Columbus is called B.R.E.A.D. In my twenty years in the humanist movement, I am very familiar with arguments like those made by Chris Stedman:

Muslim-Christian dialogue is an extraordinary start, but it should be just that: a beginning. Interfaith proponents must build upon successful dialogues like the one Duquesne will soon host, and expand their efforts to include people of other faiths — Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, etc. — and those who fall outside traditional religious paradigms, including the nonreligious. Secular humanists, atheists, agnostics, and the like must be an integral part of such conversations.

Earlier this month I wrote a series of articles for The New Humanism on whether the nonreligious should join in interfaith efforts. My answer to this question was a resounding “yes,” but as I acknowledged in my assessment of the issue, the atheist community is very divided on the subject. Much of this division stems from the fact that many atheists see themselves as “deconversion missionaries” opposed to any efforts that would promote religious identities. But I also wonder if there isn’t at least a small bit of legitimate resentment over the lack of invitation atheists have sometimes received from interfaith communities.

Interfaith Dialogue Must Include Atheists***

And by Jesse Galef:

In a nutshell: It’s worth engaging when we’re working toward a shared secular goal, when there’s a chance of gaining social capital through positive interaction, and when we’re not buying our place at the table with silence or dishonesty. How should we engage? Skillfully, loudly, proudly, and with a big ol’ smile on our faces.

Is it a problem for atheists to be involved in a project whose name includes the word interfaith? I’m going to go against the grain and say not only is it not a problem – we can use it to our advantage. To the extent that the word ‘interfaith service’ has the connotation ‘religious people doing charity’ we can do some Memetic Jujitsu!

Interfaith Jujitsu: When We Should Engage

At least Jesse acknowledges the problem with participating in something labeled ‘interfaith’.

However, he argues that words mean different things in different contexts so we should ignore the faith part of interfaith and just convince ourselves it doesn’t matter.

I’m sorry but it does matter. A word can mean different things in different contexts BUT it all depends on the audience where you use the word. If 90% of your audience knows faith means believing in a god, or a belief not based on evidence, then it doesn’t matter if a few atheists wishfully think it just means generic “belief”. We are still going to be treated like unwanted step-children. If we ignore the god talk for the sake of being included then where is the line. How much more compromise will be expected of us?

No one I know today, would accept participating in a “Humanist Fellowship” because the word “fellowship” isn’t inclusive of women. There would be severe pushback if we said to women “well it doesn’t mean just men, we include you too. Just ignore the masculine context.” That’s why I prefer organized humanist groups be called communities.

I don’t oppose working with theists on issues where we have common ground, like social justice issues, but if atheists want to cooperate with faith based groups then we should demand it be on a more equal playing field. We should ask them to ditch “interfaith” and use “interpath” instead. 

The term interfaith dialogue refers to cooperative, constructive and positive interaction between people of different religious traditions (i.e., “faiths”) and/or spiritual or humanistic beliefs, at both the individual and institutional levels. It is distinct from syncretism or alternative religion, in that dialogue often involves promoting understanding between different religions to increase acceptance of others, rather than to synthesize new beliefs. Some also use the term interpath dialogue to be more inclusive of atheists, agnostics, humanists, and other non-religious people, and to be more accurate concerning many world religions that do not place the same emphasis on “faith” as some Western religions.

Interfaith dialogue

I’m willing to come to them part of the way and by adopting “interpath” for the word defining that cooperation the theist would be coming part way toward us. Isn’t that what working together really means?

*Side Note*

We had a presentation about working on interpath groups at my Humanist meeting on Saturday (hence my inspiration for this post) and one of the presenters decided to bring up the old complaint that in order to work with interpath groups we need to stop being mean to believers.

The “New Atheists” were brought up and how it isn’t nice to mock or ridicule religion.

I reject that complaint. I believe all ideas are open to question and that includes possibly mocking or ridiculing religion. As long as it focused on the idea and religion and not the person holding the idea or religion, there shouldn’t be an issue. There are many believers who mock and ridicule us – some even believe we are all going to hell. Also there is not one single perfect version of atheism nor should we accept someone telling us how to act or behave. We aren’t a church.

I also reject the complaint about mean atheists screwing up interpath work because those mean atheists would never participate. Atheists who are interested in working with theists wouldn’t walk into the room on the first day and say “Your religion sucks, you morons!”.

It has been my experience that the mean people refuse to cooperate on principle so they would never try to join an interpath group.

It should also be noted that in our meeting, we were told about the ‘interfaith’ group B.R.E.A.D. here in Columbus. Some of the religious people who participate in B.R.E.A.D. were against and actively campaigned to prevent the city of Columbus from providing benefits for city employees in same-sex marriages. 

If I were participating in B.R.E.A.D. and one of the theists tried to degrade LGBTQs or same-sex marriage I would have to call them on it. That would be considered being “mean” but I couldn’t in good conscious remain silent for the sake of “interfaith” cooperation.

***Extra note – it is my policy to never link to an article on the Huffington Post except if I can’t find any other source for the information I need. Chris Stedman’s article was only available in full on HuffPost. I have not changed my mind about using HuffPost as a source.

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